BELVIDERE, Ill. (AP) — Mary Brubach's Saturday mornings in the summer have been the same since as long as she can remember.
Mary's mother, Susie, ran Susie's Garden Patch in Garden Prairie, and 31-year-old Mary said "for the past 27 or 28 years" they've been bringing fresh produce to the Belvidere Farmers Market, which runs from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each Saturday from early June to late October.
"This is all I've known," Brubach said. "I don't want to do anything else though. I love to interact with my customers. They know me, and I know them. They'll tell me stories about how my parents sat me down 'over there' while they ran the produce stand."
Mary's father died about 18 months ago, and Mary and her husband essentially have taken over the garden patch and now they, along with Susie's help as well as a part-time college student, sell produce ranging from asparagus to rhubarb at farmers markets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"It's tiring, but it's fun," said Brubach, who also likes to shop at other farmers markets, such as Woodstock and Beloit, Wisconsin. "I get to educate people about things they wouldn't think about because they are used to buying food in stores."
The push to get Americans to eat more locally grown food has expanded the demand for farmers markets. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said this year there are 7,684 markets operating in the U.S., a nearly 10 percent increase in just one year from the 7,175 in 2013.
According to a list of farmers markets kept by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, there are at least 12 markets in Boone, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties.
The Brubachs take part in at least one of the new ones. This year GPS Faith Community launched a farmer's market on Thursday nights in its parking lot, 10714 N. Second St., in Machesney Park, as an extension of its mobile food pantry.
Jennifer Hauch of Loves Park is the manager of the market and she said the church started it after having to turn away people from its food pantry. The church built 20 community garden boxes this year, 16 of which are being used by people who were receiving food from the pantry.
GPS is asking those growers to donate one-tenth of what they grow to the pantry and then to sell excess food at the market. GPS also recruited about 25 other vendors to expand the market's offerings.
"The thought was we can give people things forever or we can show them how to grow their own food and be more successful," Hauch said.
The market opened May 15 and at first was drawing about 150 customers. She said the past couple of weeks' attendance increased to 400. She said the goal this year is to grow it to 500 visitors a week.
Source: Rockford Register Star, http://bit.ly/Uoce6L
Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com